UK asks Malawi leader to show restraint ahead of planned protests

William Hague, the UK secretary for international affairs, has asked the Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika to show restraint ahead of planned mass protests next Wednesday. “I remain concerned about the situation in Malawi. I urge President Mutharika…to allow legitimate democratic debate and to open a genuine dialogue with civil society organisations.  This is essential to address the serious challenges the country faces,” UK secretary foreign secretary William Hague said in a statement on Friday.The statement comes a day after civil society groups and government reached a deadlock and President Mutharika’s warning that he will deal with the demonstrators if they go ahead on August 17. The mass protests last month left 19 people dead and property destroyed and looted.“I call on all parties to exercise restraint over the coming days.  Civil society organisations should not to let their movement be used for criminality or looting and the Government should ensure that the forces under its control allow peaceful demonstrations to go ahead freely and let the media report on them,” Hague said in a statement. Civil rights groups want President Mutharika to explain his personal wealth, address foreign exchange and fuel shortages and reconcile with Britain, which froze aid after a diplomatic spat. Mutharika has presided over six years of phenomenal economic growth which is teetering on the brink of collapse because of a diplomatic dispute with Britain, Malawi’s biggest donor, over a leaked embassy cable that referred to him as “autocratic and intolerant of criticism”. The cable led to the expulsion of Britain’s ambassador to Lilongwe, and in response, Britain expelled Malawi’s representative in London and suspended budget support worth millions of dollars. The freeze has left a yawning hole in the budget of a country reliant on handouts for 40 percent of its revenues, and intensified a dollar shortage that this week saw the government devalue its kwacha currency by 10 percent to 165 against the U.S. dollar. “ Malawi’s grave economic crisis can only be tackled if the Government works with the international donor community. If this doesn’t happen, the economic and social progress made in recent years will be lost,” Hague warned.